Mesmerizing. From across the gallery, Monet’s 42-foot painting undulated. Soft pink blossoms reflected on the indigo pond, rippling where blue-green lily pads broke the surface. Closer, the illusion of movement was replaced by one of depth. Rosy red lilies floated on water so crystalline it seemed I could see clear to the bottom.
Through August 23, 2009, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta is sponsoring a special exhibition titled Monet Water Lilies, featuring four of Monet’s most spectacular works from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Highlight of the exhibition is the artist’s painting of water lilies on the pond at his home in Giverney, France. Painted during his later years when his eyesight was failing, Monet readily admitted to being obsessed with the subject of reflections on water; these enormous canvasses are amazing in their ability to draw the viewer into the visual and spiritual essence of the scene.
When visiting Atlanta, the High Museum is a must see, as much for its architecture as the exhibits. The original stunning porcelain-enameled building, designed by Richard Meier, has been named one of the “ten best works of American architecture in the 1980’s” by the American Institute of Architects. Inside, a towering four story atrium is naturally lit by sunlight streaming through a glass roof. Spiral ramps surround the central core, leading up to galleries that display 18th and 19th-century collections near the ground floor and contemporary art on the upper levels. Over the years the museum’s collection continued to grow and eventually more space was needed. The acclaimed Italian architect Renzo Piano was commissioned to design three new buildings, which opened in 2005 and essentially tripled the available display space.
Even so, at any given time the 312,000 square foot facility can only display a portion of the museum’s permanent collection, consisting of more than 11,000 pieces and including 19th and 20th century American and decorative art, significant European pieces, modern and contemporary art, photography, African art, and folk art. Additionally, the museum conducts an ongoing program of special displays, such as the current Louvre Atlanta: The Louvre and the Masterpiece, which explores how the definition of a “masterpiece” has changed over time and features 91 works of art, spanning 4,000 years, drawn from all eight of the Museum du Louvre’s collection. Beginning in early October, Leonardo da Vinci: Hand of the Genius will showcase da Vinci’s interest in and influence on sculpture.
Even the exterior courtyard holds fascination. Roy Lichtenstein’s “House III,” a seemingly simple one-walled structure, appears to move as you walk by it, like the eyes of a painting that follow you around a room. But it is pure optical illusion – and fun!
At the end of the afternoon I returned to the Monet exhibit for one last look at those peaceful, mesmerizing water lilies. Stepping as close to the painting as possible, I held up my iPhone and snapped a few closeups of the painting, choosing the best one as my phone’s screensaver. Although I had to leave the High Museum of Art, I’ll always carry a bit of Monet’s genius with me.